Celebrating the constitution – 11 Apr 2023

Yesterday — April 10 — marked the fiftieth anniversary of the 1973 constitution. In a country where the constitution has been treated more as Gen Musharraf’s famous ‘piece of paper’ to be thrown in the dustbin than as the highest law of the land, this Constitution Day deserved all the celebration that could be mustered. To commemorate the day thus, the National Assembly held a special national constitutional convention attended by parliamentarians, civil society members and also Supreme Court Justice Qazi Faez Isa. It is a fact that Pakistan has had more than its share of dictators abrogating the constitution. Those same dictators have then used this very constitution as a cynical shield. And when all else has failed autocrats masquerading as democrats or pure dictators have both made last-ditch efforts when they see power slipping away and when their rule is about to end; these last-ditch efforts have invariably involved trampling all over the constitution. The much-traumatized constitution of Pakistan was finally restored to its almost-original form through the 18th Amendment back in 2010. It was one of the biggest achievements and a breakthrough national and parliamentary consensus, also highlighting how without constitutionalism, democracy is meaningless.

Yes, as it stands today, the constitution of Pakistan is an imperfect document — as most constitutions are — and as a constitution is a living document and transforms via new amendments, interpretations and an evolving society, one would think consensus and democratic law-making would take care of all these issues. Given the political chaos that we are witnessing today, talking about the constitution may sound pedantic but it is really the most hopeful conversation to be had at this moment in our history. Since both sides of the political aisle are laying claim to both democracy and constitutionalism, may we dare hope for a future where political stakeholders realize that at the end of the day, what really saves them is the constitution. From Imran Khan’s PTI abrogating the constitution through Qasim Suri’s ruling last year to the judicial reinterpretation of Article 63A to the current government’s refusal to hold elections in Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, the way that the constitution has been made redundant has been a grotesque reflection of years — decades, eally — of this document being used merely as a weapon of choice by whoever has been in power, and a handy slogan by whoever has been out of power. For example, the PDM and its allies were the only alliance that was successful in sending an elected prime minister home through the constitutionally mandated vote of no-confidence without using any unconstitutional means. And yes here we are: seeing the same alliance trying to do everything it can to forget what the constitution says regarding the 90-day mandate for holding elections in Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. What is wrong now was wrong then and will always be wrong if the constitution isn’t followed through.

As a living, breathing democratic country, it would have been good to see the opposition also in attendance during yesterday’s Golden Jubilee Convention for the constitution of Pakistan. It is important, even now when nearly every bit of toxicity has entered the political bloodstream, to insist on consensus and dialogue instead of useless and unintelligent confrontation that this country is sadly getting much too used to. With 50 years of having survived consistent attacks on it, however, the constitution of this country has never been short of protectors. After 50 years though, one hopes the basic rules set out by the constitution of Pakistan finally get respect by all power wielders in this land.

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